Locks, Seals, Security Cameras for Ballots


Locks, seals and security cameras 1

Basic facts 1

Avoiding suspicion. 1

Locks 1

Seals 1

Security cameras 1

Foreigners and local storage. 1

Examples of surreptitious access: 1

State rules for security of ballots 1

Drop boxes’ security. 1

Guidelines for ballot security. 1


Locks, seals and security cameras

Locks, seals and security cameras keep out unskilled thieves and accidental access. Therefore they matter a great deal. However, they are not a barrier to skilled attackers or wealthy dishonest interests, domestic or foreign, which are willing to hire skilled attackers.

Ballots are not the only election materials that must be stored securely. Paper and electronic pollbooks, access logs, and seal numbers are among other crucial records that require secure storage.

Basic facts

Security features of election offices vary. Outside doors always have locks, like any government office. Sometimes they have multiple locks and guards. Storage rooms also usually have one or two locks. In big counties, the central election computers are locked in a separate room, where only a few staff go, often with windows for public observation. Issues include who has keys, and how hard it is to duplicate keys or pick the locks. Electronic locks keep a log of who enters. Issues include who programs the lock and its keys and who can access the logs.

Ballot boxes vary too. There are ballot boxes or heavy bags in polling places to store voted ballots. An office may use the same containers for longterm storage, or may store ballots in cardboard boxes and keep the precinct boxes or bags empty for the next election. Ballots which include federal races must be stored for 22 months, by federal law. Other ballots are usually stored for a few months, by state law.

Ballot boxes may have one or more locks, with keys held by different people. They often have seals, such as custom-printed, numbered zip ties, metal & plastic seals, or adhesive labels which show who sealed the box and when. It is common, but not universal, to put a seal on ballot boxes before they leave the voting location, and, for ballots scanned centrally, to seal them after they are scanned, so they are not accidentally picked up and scanned again. Some ballots sit on shelves unsealed. Seals are not intended to be tamper-proof, but rather tamper-evident, meaning that someone looking at them should be able to tell if the seal has been compromised.


Avoiding suspicion

The public knows that locked, sealed ballots and other records are not perfectly safe. We still deserve to know how well security systems are set up.

Many people will be suspicious if you take a close interest in election locks, seals and cameras. You’d be suspicious yourself if someone wanted details about the locks on your home.

Learning about locks, seals and cameras may be best done by a formal group, filing public records requests (FOIA) for brands of locks and cameras, lists of keys issued, logs of electronic locks, old camera footage, and protocols for the office monitoring the cameras. That way no one is personally snooping and subject to arrest or harassment. See https://www.nfoic.org/organizations/ on public records requests. You can often attend poll worker training or read copies of poll worker manuals, where the office tells poll workers how to handle seals. Sometimes an internet search will find local poll worker manuals, or you can ask the election office for them. We keep a collection of links to pollworker manuals,  and we’ll appreciate if you add a link to any other manual you find, to help other volunteers.


When you observe at an election office you may be able to note the following items.

  1. When and where do they store ballots, seal logs & polling-place records?
  2. Does anything have 2 locks, which both need to be unlocked to gain access?
  3. How many locks are between the outdoors & the ballots?
  4. Do hasps, hinges, seams look secure?
  5. What brand are the locks?

Observing the latter two of those may earn you suspicion. The last one above, and some of  the following may be subject to public records requests. If you can find brand names, you can check for reviews of their security, or YouTube videos of how easy they are to pick, and you can suggest upgrades to officials.

  1. Who has keys or electronic access?
  2. Does anyone have all the keys or master key, to access alone?
  3. Who programs electronic locks and their keycards?
  4. Who can erase or change the logs of electronic locks?
  5. Can you get the state or a college to evaluate locks, if you can find experts there?

Examples of issues with locks

A good warning about how easily a skilled person can pick any lock is in https://www.youtube.com/embed/ULUz4u5FLYg?start=74&end=179 where he picks 7 locks in 1 minute 45 seconds.

"Roger Johnston... has conducted vulnerability assessments on more than a thousand physical security and nuclear safeguard devices, systems, and programs. It’s his opinion that all security technologies and devices can be defeated—usually 'fairly easily'... http://losspreventionmedia.com/insider/retail-security/physical-security-threats-and-vulnerabilities/

         "The typical security manufacturer isn’t likely to have good insider threat security, so product tampering at the source is a risk...Then [the security device] will sit on loading docks, and then sit again, sometimes for months, somewhere at the end user, and only then is it installed" said Johnston. "But no one knows what the interior is supposed to look like, and manufacturers don’t supply pictures, so it’s impossible to tell signs of tampering." (also applies to security cameras)

         ... "The problem at a lot of organizations is that they’re afraid to encourage employees to think about these kinds of things, and they’re also afraid of what they’ll find... many don’t want to see the expensive technology they bought easily compromised... Looking at your security devices from the perspective of attackers will always point out flaws... acknowledge that they are a possibility... And appreciate which threats devices can and can’t protect against." (also applies to security cameras)

Access to locked courthouses wired.com/story/inside-courthouse-break-in-spree-that-landed-two-white-hat-hackers-in-jail/

         "gained access to the building’s server room, and even found that a judge had left their computer open and unlocked on their bench at the front of a courtroom. Underneath the laptop, for good measure, was a sticky note with a password written on it...

         hundreds of white-hat hackers who work across the US as professional penetration testers—the rare kind that perform physical intrusions rather than mere over-the-internet hacking...

         few nights’ string of intrusions...

         many of the alarm systems they’d encountered in the past weren’t properly armed and never actually dialed out to responders...

         glaring vulnerabilities in the security of the state’s judicial system. Those vulnerabilities, they say, were swept under the rug...

         Coalfire staffer had easily gotten into a courthouse during daylight hours by impersonating a state IT worker. Then he'd simply sat down and plugged a computer into the network...

         They snaked a tiny boroscope camera under doors to check for alarms or security guards. They picked old-fashioned pin-and-tumbler locks on doors and desk drawers with simple lock picking tools, finding key cards in drawers and using them to get past other internal doors in the building. They used DeMercurio’s cutting board shim trick and a tool that slides under a door and reaches up to hook its inside handle. At one point they made clever use of a can of compressed air—the kind meant for cleaning dust out of keyboards—to trigger an infrared motion sensor: Angle the propellant gas through the door’s crack to the sensor inside, and it registers as a temperature change, tricking the sensor into believing a person had approached from within and unlocking the door to let them out...

         between those windows and the building’s server room, there wasn’t a single locked door...

         the Iowa judicial branch seems to have taken entirely the wrong lesson from the whole Coalfire affair. A new set of precautions it released last October forbids courthouse break-ins of the kind Coalfire performed entirely. Never mind that Coalfire’s testing revealed security flaws as basic as unlocked doors and windows, ones that could be used to access highly sensitive criminal justice information like juror identities and evidence. “They just said ‘We’re obviously insecure, and now we’re going to make sure we never test again,’”"

Frequency: There are no statistics on how often criminals enter rooms undetected. Law enforcement often does so, so ability to enter rooms undetected is widespread at least in law enforcement and former law enforcement. Electronic Frontier Foundation: "Peekaboo, I See You: Government Authority Intended for Terrorism is Used for Other Purposes". Also McGuire, Sneak and Peek Warrants-Necessary for our Safety...?

Creating a master key from any key in a building, such as a borrowed restroom key, has been known since 1850. Blaze, Matt. "Cryptology and Physical Security: Rights Amplification in Master-Keyed Mechanical Locks"

"[F]ew institutions want to spend the money for robust security... in a battle between convenience and security, convenience has a way of winning." "Many Locks All Too Easy To Get Past". New York Times, 1/23/2003.

Attackers can 3D-print key blanks from a photo of the lock, if they have trouble finding the blanks: Burgess, Wustrow & Halderman; (2015). "Replication Prohibited: Attacking Restricted Keyways with 3D-Printing"

Electronic locks can have different techniques:

         There is often a pickable key lock to bypass the electronic system, as in the photo

         Menn. "Exclusive: High-security locks for government and banks hacked by researcher"

         Greenberg "Inside an Epic Hotel Room Hacking Spree"

         Electronic locks using bluetooth to measure proximity can be fooled by electronic relays near the lock and the true key https://research.nccgroup.com/2022/05/15/technical-advisory-tesla-ble-phone-as-a-key-passive-entry-vulnerable-to-relay-attacks/ and https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2022/05/bluetooth-flaw-allows-remote-unlocking-of-digital-locks.html

Lockpicking is widely taught and practiced:. "The Strange Things That Happen at a Lock-picking Convention".. Lockpicking is a legal sport: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locksport


Video of children bypassing a variety of seals and putting the seals back in place  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaOVIFnoljo

Federal standards for seals apply to shipment, and medicine, none for storage.

         http://everyspec.com/FED_SPECS/F/FF-S-2738A_25291/ Shipment seals must resist tampering for 30 seconds. ( Dept of Homeland Security, User’s Guide on Security Seals for Domestic Cargo January 2007 p/4-3, 6-9. https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=235928 )

         “A tamper-evident package is one having one or more indicators or barriers to entry which, if breached or missing, can reasonably be expected to provide visible evidence to consumers that tampering has occurred... the package is required to be distinctive by design or by the use of one or more indicators or barriers to entry that employ an identifying characteristic (e.g., a pattern, name, registered trademark, logo, or picture). For purposes of this section, the term “distinctive by design” means the packaging cannot be duplicated with commonly available materials or through commonly available processes. https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-21/chapter-I/subchapter-C/part-211/subpart-G/section-211.132 There is extensive guidance at https://www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/cpg-sec-450500-tamper-resistant-packaging-requirements-certain-over-counter-human-drug-products

         An expert cannot find “ANY that would meet the requirement that they ‘…cannot be duplicated with commonly available materials or through commonly available processes…’ ” Johnston 2022 p.48 http://rbsekurity.com/JPS%20Archives/JPS_15(1).pdf

Luther Weeks ctvoterscount.org/nj-chain-of-custody-six-unsuccessful-attempts-to-seal-voting-machines/

The public is usually too far away to check seal numbers, though they could compare old and new photos projected on a screen. Seal numbers and photos would need their own secure storage.

How to Choose and Use Seals. by Johnston & Warner 2012 https://web.archive.org/web/20201031125201/https://alu.army.mil/alog/issues/JulAug12/Choose_Use_Seals.html

         "Seal manufacturers, vendors, and users typically overestimate the difficulty of defeating their seals. At least 105 different generic methods are available for potentially defeating a seal. These include, for example,

         picking the seal open without leaving evidence,

         counterfeiting the seal,

         replicating the seal at the factory,

         changing the serial number,

         tampering with the database of seal serial numbers,

         drilling into the seal to allow interior manipulation and then repairing the hole,

         cutting the seal and repairing the damage, and

         not installing the correct seal in the first place and then later replacing it with the correct seal.

         Full counterfeiting is usually not the most likely attack on a seal unless the adversary is perhaps attacking a large number of seals or has very limited time to access the seal and its container…

         no seal is unspoofable (just as no lock is undefeatable)... The optimal choice of a seal depends on the details of your security goals, threats, and adversaries and your personnel... amateurs can attack seals in a way that leaves little (and sometimes no) evidence... 

         Sometimes the consternation and delays that a suspicious seal creates for superiors... make front-line employees reluctant to raise their concerns."

Security Seals on Voting Machines by Andrew Appel, 2011 https://www.cs.princeton.edu/~appel/voting/SealsOnVotingMachines.pdf

         When seals are missing or broken, nothing usually can be done. "An attacker who simply cuts, removes, or destroys tamper-indicating seals (without doing anything else) can attempt to call the legitimacy of the election into question...

         it must be difficult for the attacker to counterfeit a seal...

         I am not sure how much experience with injection-molding of plastics one needs to be able to do this, but really that is rarely the point: in the vast majority of cases there are much easier attacks—either the simple removal and replacement of the original seal, or the purchase of extra (legitimate) seals and changing their serial number, or the purchase of extra seals to re-use some of their parts with the serial number of the original seal…

         I demonstrated for the judge the complete removal and replacement of all seals with no visible evidence of tampering...

         'To the court’s untrained eye, most of the seals appeared unaltered with a few showing minimal damage.' [Opinion 2010, p. 52]...

         corrupt election officials may hire corrupt seal inspectors... or deliberately fail to train them... Consider an audit or recount of a ballot box, days or weeks after an election...

         The tamper evident seals are inspected and removed—but by whom?...

         the public must be able to receive training on detection of tampering of those particular seals."

Security cameras

Basic issues include:

Who watches them?

Can you watch them?

Will they web-cast them?

Who can check stored recordings?

How long are recordings kept?

What brand and model are the cameras? (Hikvision is an example of a banned Chinese brand)

Can you get the state or a college to evaluate cameras & storage?

It may be worth asking for some footage under public records laws to see their quality, and if they really exist.

As noted earlier, requests by a formal group may be better received than from an individual, so it is clear you want public information about the level of security, and are not attackers. If you can find brand names, you can check for reviews of their security, or youtube videos of how easy they are to hack, and you can suggest upgrades to officials.

Russia does hack security cameras: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idOpgrq9czc Johnston: https://losspreventionmedia.com/securitys-security/ “The typical security manufacturer isn’t likely to have good insider threat security,” so product tampering at the source is a risk...

         “Then [the security device] will sit on loading docks, and then sit again, sometimes for months, somewhere at the end user, and only then is it installed,” said Johnston. “But no one knows what the interior is supposed to look like, and manufacturers don’t supply pictures, so it’s impossible to tell signs of tampering.” A skilled adversary can install a man-in-the-middle (MiM) attack or - (also applies to locks)

         +compromise a device in some other way with just a few minutes of access, he noted.

         Additionally, security product design often facilitates tampering by using housing that is thicker than necessary in order to make servicing devices easier. “So there is all kinds of physical room inside it for someone to put in a device to capture data and conduct MiM attacks. And end users don’t usually go around and check for alien material inside their security devices, so you have successful attacks,” said Johnston.

         "The problem at a lot of organizations is that they’re afraid to encourage employees to think about these kinds of things, and they’re also afraid of what they’ll find... many don’t want to see the expensive technology they bought easily compromised... Looking at your security devices from the perspective of attackers will always point out flaws... acknowledge that they are a possibility... And appreciate which threats devices can and can’t protect against." (also applies to locks)

"How to hack a security camera. It's alarmingly simple". IFSEC.

"Official Cybersecurity Review Finds U.S. Military Buying High-Risk Chinese Tech (Updated)". Forbes.

"Hacking Security Cameras – Schneier on Security".

An alternative to camera monitoring is to connect intrusion sensors to a transmitter which sends an “All OK” signal which stops when there is any intrusion. It needs encryption to avoid spoofed signals. It can still be spoofed by an insider who knows the encryption or can spoof the sensors.

Articles on hacking security systems which depend on the widely used ZigBee wireless transmission start on p.1 of http://rbsekurity.com/JPS%20Archives/JPS_15(1).pdf

Foreigners and local storage

Besides access to storage by local criminals (and possibly dishonest insiders), foreigners are also a risk. Russia and North Korea are widely accused of using criminals to act for them abroad and there is no reason other countries cannot do the same:

  1. https://ecfr.eu/article/commentary_security_concerns_russian_mafia_back_on_agenda7083/ “For Moscow, Russian-based criminal networks provide an unconventional asset in the geopolitical struggle with the West… At home and abroad, Russia’s gangsters and spooks are often closely connected.”
  2. https://bpr.berkeley.edu/2019/12/16/gangs-and-gulags-how-vladimir-putin-utilizes-organized-crime-to-power-his-mafia-state/ "more and more crime networks tangentially linked to Russian actors have appeared all over Europe. Multiple politically convenient assassinations or assassination attempts have been made on anti-Russia figures by gang members who have been accused of being Russian assets... Russian government’s implicit support of the vast array of organized crime means that the surge of activity across the European Union won’t be going away any time soon."
  3. https://globalinitiative.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/TGIATOC-Diplomats-and-Deceipt-DPRK-Report-1868-web.pdf “Much has been written about state-sponsored North Korean criminal activity in Asia and Europe.”
  4. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/NIC_toc_foldout.pdf “North Korean entities maintain ties with crime networks to earn hard currency.”
  5. https://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-policy-forum/the-north-korean-criminal-state-its-ties-to-organized-crime-and-the-possibility-of-wmd-proliferation/ “I compared North Korea under Kim Jong Il with Serbia under Milosevic, Romania under Ceausescu, and Panama under Noriega... Incidences of illicit activity have occurred in every continent and almost every DPRK Embassy in the world has been involved at one time or another.”

Examples of surreptitious access:

Insiders have keys. They don’t need to lockpick.

CA. 2007-2009. Cudahy city officials threw away, uncounted, ballots for candidates running against city council members. Gottlieb, Jeff , Hector Becerra and Ruben Vives (2012-07-13). "Feds detail scale of graft in Cudahy". Los Angeles Times.

CO. 2010. Saguache County. Weeks. http://www.ctvoterscount.org/foreign-policy-transparent-chain-of-custody/

FL. 2017. Broward County(Fort Lauderdale) elections staff erroneously destroyed ballots before the law allowed, and while a court case for them was pending. Singhal "Order on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment." Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial District. CACE17-010904(21) Friesdat. "Was the Heated 2016 Democratic Primary Rigged for Debbie Wasserman Schultz?" Alternet.

GA. 2017. statewide: Kennesaw State University, which managed Georgia's elections, erased election records after a court case was filed, and erased the backup after the case moved to federal court. Gumbel, "Why US elections remain 'dangerously vulnerable' to cyber-attacks." The Guardian.

KY. 2002-2007. Clay County election officials falsified election results and destroyed forms which showed they helped voters, since the voters they helped were being paid to vote certain ways. "US District Ct, ED KY, Indictment 09-16-Art US v. Maricle, et al" and "Docket for United States v. Maricle, 6:09-cr-00016 - CourtListener.com". CourtListener.

MI. state-wide: Kurth and Oosting. "Records: Too many votes in 37% of Detroit’s precincts." Detroit News.

NV. 2016. Clark County (Las Vegas) Registrar of Voters. RecountNow. "Report on the 2016 Presidential Recount in Clark County, Nevada." Page 20.

OH. 2007.  Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) election workers entered storage rooms in advance and secretly went through the ballots to make public audits appear problem-free.  In court these staff "countered that the board had always done things that way - with the knowledge of its attorney,"  Turner. "Elections board workers take plea deal." Cleveland Plain Dealer.

PA. 1993. Philadelphia election board did not keep absentee ballots which had been rejected, from unregistered voters, and turned them over to the campaign which collected them. "MARKS v. STINSON 19 F.3d 873 (1994)"

State rules for security of ballots

“legislation on storage requirements is rare, storage is a key issue for local or state officials… tamper-proof seals, cameras in equipment storage areas…“ https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/election-security-state-policies.aspx

“No state has laws or regulations to ensure that the paper trail is conserved adequately, and that evidence to that effect is provided.” Bernhard et al. (2017). Public Evidence from Secret Ballots. in Electronic voting : second International Joint Conference, E-Vote-ID 2017, Bregenz, Austria, October 24-27, 2017, proceedings (PDF). Cham, Switzerland. p. 122. ISBN 9783319686875. OCLC 1006721597.

"Election officials should re-examine current practices for securing the chain of custody of all paper ballots" ~US Senate Intelligence Committee


Alabama: lock equipment https://www.sos.alabama.gov/alabama-votes/voter/election-laws

Arizona: 1 lock https://www.azleg.gov/ars/16/00564.htm

California: 1 seal on ballot bag at polling place (pp.19, 46) https://recorder.countyofventura.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Poll-Worker-Handbook2-12-20.pdf

Connecticut: 1 lock, single access http://ctelectionaudit.org/nov-2021-post-election-audit-report/

Colorado: 1 lock https://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/info_center/laws/Title1/Title1Article7.html

Georgia: 1 lock & seal http://effinghamsheriff.org/DocumentCenter/View/4565/POLL-WORKER-MANUAL---May-2021

Indiana: two locks, https://casetext.com/statute/indiana-code/title-3-elections/article-11-voting-methods-supplies-and-equipment/chapter-10-voting-by-absentee-ballot/section-3-11-10-10-absentee-ballots-to-be-kept-under-two-locks-in-cabinets-boxes-or-room-security-of-keys

Kentucky: 3 locks for VBM https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/law/statutes/statute.aspx?id=51650

Maryland: 1 lock & seal http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/elections/resources/files/pdfs/judge/chapter9.pdf

Michigan: 1 lock & seal https://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/XII_Precinct_Canvass_-_Closing_the_Polls_266013_7.pdf

Minnesota: 1 lock https://www.sos.alabama.gov/alabama-votes/voter/election-laws

New York: 2 locks held by 2 parties https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/election-voting-security-nassau-suffolk-1.50059036 and https://elections.erie.gov/PDFs/Election%20Day%20Manual%202021%20EPB%20Revised%20FINAL.pdf

North Carolina: 1 lock (public photo of key) http://elections.nhcgov.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-General-Election-Day-Voting-Training.pptx

Ohio: 1 lick & seal https://www.mcohio.org/20%20Mar%20PLS%20Class%201%20For%20Website.pdf

Pennsylvania: 1 lock https://delcopa.gov/vote/results.html

Texas: 1 lock election day, 2 locks early votes, cameras  https://www.sos.texas.gov/elections/laws/advisory2022-10.shtml

Utah: 1 lock https://kslnewsradio.com/1964619/follow-the-ballot-how-utahs-ballots-are-tabulated-and-audited/

West Virginia: 2 locks held by 2 officials, usually of same party, sealed envelope http://www.wvlegislature.gov/wvcode/ChapterEntire.cfm?chap=3&art=3&section=3

Drop boxes’ security

by state https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/vopp-table-9-ballot-drop-box-definitions-design-features-location-and-number.aspx


“Typically made of heavy and high-grade metal, bolted to the ground,... locks, tamper-evident seals… 24-hour video surveillance” https://www.cisa.gov/rumorcontrol

Drop boxes with scanner, Orange County CA 2022 https://ocvote.gov/press-releases/orange-county-ca-elections-to-pilot-additional-ballot-tracking-technology

Guidelines for ballot security



https://electionaudits.org/files/Audit%20Principles%20and%20Best%20Practices%202018.pdf “fully secured - Procedures regulating access to ballots and equipment could include requiring signatures for access, documenting the reason for access, preventing access by a single person, requiring that access be observed by members of opposing parties, or using surveillance cameras to guard storage areas.”